A Plan for NATO: Central Europe Indistinguishable from Western Europe

NATO must demolish the remains of the Cold War border of the Eastern Block

The Iron Curtain partially survived and tempts Russia with hopes of returning to Central Europe. It is one of the reasons for President Vladimir Putin’s attempts to restore the lost tsarist and Soviet empire. The Eastern Bloc and the Soviet Union do not exist, but on maps of forces and resources, in organization charts and many key NATO documents you can see a sharp difference and boundary between the area of the North Atlantic Alliance before the eastward enlargement, and the territories of all states admitted after the Cold War. All that despite the fact that the expansion began—from the Czech Republic, Poland and Hungary—more than fifteen years ago, in 1999, in the previous century and millennium.

But the most important documents—the North Atlantic Treaty and the accession protocols, or in the current NATO Strategic Concept from 2010—there is no foundation for maintaining differentiation or boundary. The Treaty and the Concept do not divide the member states into old and new, Eastern and Western, better and worse, more defended and less defended. So the NATO practice of investing more, both in terms of quality and quantity, in Western Europe than in Eastern Europe—a great strategic zone, from Estonia in the north through the Visegrad countries in the middle to Bulgaria in the south—is contrary to the legal, political and strategic foundations of the Alliance. NATO remains incoherent, which weakens its unity. It encourages NATO’s opponents to test the ability of the Alliance to deploy collective defense. Lack of cohesion and unity provokes war.

“But Russia Would Never Agree to That!”

The ongoing incoherence of the North Atlantic Alliance represents the achievement of a permanent goal of Russia. The first decade after the accession of the three Visegrad countries was an era of excessive caution and appeasement to Russian demands and prohibitions for NATO. Russia imposed on the alliance an impassable limit to its real presence. Russia psychologically and politically invaded the heads of the people running NATO and planning its future. The Alliance claimed that nobody from the outside could have vetoing power, but at the same time, it recognized the Russian veto. Any idea for a significant strengthening of the potential of the multinational alliance in Central Europe was countered by the headquarters in Brussels and the capitals of Western member states with a firm response: “But Russia would never agree to that!”

The dogma of the primacy of the interests and wishes of Russia, repeated like a mantra, usually ended any discussion and killed the will to meet the challenges. Therefore, only in 2009—after the Russian invasion of Georgia in 2008—the first contingency operational plans were created regarding the introduction of multinational allied forces to Poland in the case of mounting a collective defense. And only in 2010 the contingency plans included Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia—the remaining Central European member states directly bordering with Russia. Developed hurriedly after a lost decade, the plans quickly proved inadequate. As a result of the events of 2014 in Europe they are being urgently revised and strengthened.

But contingency plans—even revised and expanded—are not enough. It would be best if they never had to be applied. But to achieve this, NATO has to deter potential aggressors effectively. Deter not only with nuclear but also with conventional forces. NATO must organize and deploy its resources in such a way that no one could find a weak point to attack. Therefore, the allied Central Europe must change to a large extent, even if “Russia would never agree to that!” In any case, Russia does not agree to the territorial integrity and inviolability of the borders of Georgia, Ukraine and Moldova. Thus, it does not agree to one of the fundamental principles of the Charter of the United Nations and the entire international order since the end of World War II. The North Atlantic Alliance must stop succumbing to the Russian veto and psychological warfare.

Without the Iron Curtain

NATO must demolish the remains of the Cold War border of the Eastern Block. Looking at the network of headquarters, bases, schools, installations, infrastructure and all other resources of the Alliance in Europe, a potential opponent or another external observer should see one and single—without any distinguishable parts—area from Iceland, Norway, Great Britain, Spain and Portugal in the west to Estonia, Poland, Bulgaria, Turkey and other member states to the east. On the map of the world, rather than just Europe, there should be no differences—on the Western side—up to Alaska and Hawaii, in accordance with the North Atlantic Treaty.

NATO assets must be distributed uniformly or concentrated where they are most needed now, not where they were most needed in the era of the Warsaw Pact and the German internal border. Some types of resources should be located well inside or even in the center of the European part of the Alliance. This is where the highest institutions of political and military command should be placed, as well as installations using space technology, centers of strategic planning and analysis, NATO schools and other resources used equally by all member states. But the combat forces, command centers below the highest level and most of the intelligence, observation and logistical resources require deployment closer to the outer borders of NATO and the potential battlefields. This means mainly the countries of Central Europe and the Mediterranean.

Land, Sea, Air, Special and Cybernetic Forces

In Central Europe multinational bases should be established, serving the co-stationing and developing comprehensive cooperation by any kind of armed forces of NATO member states: land, sea, air, special, and cybernetic. The process of forming separate cyber forces is only starting in many NATO countries, but close cooperation at this stage can be extremely valuable and speed up the process. What is needed is at least one base for each type of armed forces. For the Navy we need two bases on two different seas. The bases should be placed in as many countries as possible. No base has to be limited to one type of force, but every type of force needs a host base.

Naval bases are needed on the Baltic Sea and the Black Sea. Only Poland has non-freezing military ports on the Baltic: Świnoujście and Gdynia, as well as the great deep-water commercial port in Gdańsk. Romania occupies an important strategic position on the Black Sea coast, in the immediate vicinity of Ukraine.

Unique opportunities for maneuvers and training of ground troops and special forces with air support are offered by the Drawsko Pomorskie training ground in north-western Poland near the Baltic Sea and the German border—it is the largest training ground in the European part of NATO. It is already extensively used by many countries of the Alliance. It could become a permanent multinational center for enhancing the Allied combat readiness.

We Should Work Faster on the Anti-missile Shields of the U.S. and NATO

For the first time installations essential for the entire North Atlantic Alliance are placed not in Western Europe, but in Central Europe. Domination in European airspace means domination over Europe. The ability to attack or blackmail European countries with missiles and aviation means enjoying a decisive strategic advantage on the continent. A significant strengthening of the integrity and safety of NATO will therefore be ensured by the American missile defense base in Romania, created for the needs of the U.S. and the entire Alliance. Its construction has already started and combat readiness is planned for 2015. A complement to the U.S. missile base in Europe will be the base in Poland, with even more advanced anti-missile rockets, but combat readiness is predicted for the distant 2018. For the sake of NATO the United States may bring the deadline forward to 2017 or even 2016.

Both in Western and Central Europe—without distinction—the European NATO countries should soon start creating a multinational second layer of the shield, defending against shorter-range missiles, aircraft and large spy and combat drones.

Nuclear Weapons

“The supreme guarantee of the security of the Allies” is, according to the Strategic Concept of NATO, nuclear weapons. To increase the credibility of the transatlantic bond a small portion of the U.S. nuclear arsenal is deployed in four Western European countries and Turkey, to be used by the Alliance as a whole in the event of war. This policy and strategy contributed to the success of the Alliance— no one has ever launched a regular attack on the territory of a member state. The United States should boldly cross the Iron Curtain, offering a similar solution to at least one country in Central Europe. The transatlantic bond cannot stop at any impassable line drawn by Russia.

A uniform treatment of the entire area of NATO in nuclear policy and strategy is the best and only way to avoid any new national programs for the development of nuclear weapons. Ukraine gave up its nuclear arsenal in exchange for the Budapest Memorandum signed in 1994, to ensure respecting its independence, sovereignty, territorial integrity and inviolability of borders by Russia and the Western powers. And then it lost the Crimea for an indefinite period. The Ukrainian decision from ten years ago is now widely considered to be a historic mistake. Only the Atlantic Alliance can ensure a collective rather than an individual nuclear deterrence.

Command Continental or Global

In a chosen country of Central Europe NATO should create a new—corresponding to new challenges— headquarters with tasks covering the whole of Europe or the world. It should be a battle command directly subordinated to the Allied Command Operations, ACO, in Mons, Belgium. The most justified choice would be a European missile and air defense command or a global cyber-war command.

Rebus Sic Stantibus

Rebus sic stantibus—circumstances have changed. Russia changed them using aggression and threats. The North Atlantic Alliance should announce—to avoid dangerous misunderstandings and miscalculations—that the declarations from before the enlargement to the east, differentiating the status of the member states, now only have a historical character. In any case the declarations were not treaties and were not legally binding. They were totally unrelated to collective defense or peace support missions (for example, in Ukraine).

The main declaration was the document signed in 1997 and called the “Founding Act on Mutual Relations, Cooperation and Security between NATO and the Russian Federation.”The document stated: “In the current and foreseeable security environment, the Alliance will carry out its collective defense and other missions by ensuring the necessary interoperability, integration and capability for reinforcement rather than by additional permanent stationing of substantial combat forces.” It also said: “The member States of NATO reiterate that they have no intention, no plan and no reason to deploy nuclear weapons on the territory of new members, nor any need to change any aspect of NATO’s nuclear posture or nuclear policy—and do not foresee any future need to do so. This subsumes the fact that NATO has decided that it has no intention, no plan, and no reason to establish nuclear weapon storage sites on the territory of those members, whether through the construction of new nuclear storage facilities or the adaptation of old nuclear storage facilities.” In return, Russia has committed itself to substantial self-limitation in the field of conventional forces. In 2014, it all lost its validity.

Cohesion must be added to the NATO Strategic Concept, or introduced as a principle and goal of the Alliance through a special document at the next summit. A similar goal—geographic cohesion—is pursued since 2009 by the European Union. The North Atlantic Alliance should adapt the idea from its neighbors in Brussels.

Grzegorz Kostrzewa-Zorbas

is a political scientist and Americanist, graduated from Georgetown University (National Security) and Johns Hopkins University (Ph.D. in Strategic Studies). He conducted research on international security at the Georgetown University Institute for the Study of Diplomacy and the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in the United States, and at the Japan Institute of International Affairs. In Poland, he was a political director at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of National Defense, and the chief negotiator of the agreement on the withdrawal of the Soviet Army from Poland. He is now Professor of National Security at the Military University of Technology in Warsaw and a media commentator.

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